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Richard Laermer Headshot

Apple, Clooney, Game Change & Hype Du Jour: Five Random Stories About The Media

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Cynicism Beats All Expectations

In October 2001 I read something in the New York Times that made me think hype was Apple's only bet--and maybe the brand new "iPod portable music player," as the Mac-run device was known, might not be as substantial as its over-the-top pre-release made it to be. I wrote my thoughts down and it crept into the Times on 11/1/01:

Hype is of no value unless it's got some substance. Apple may have done a great job explaining exciting products in the past, but the truth is that hype is at an all-time high, so nothing is worthy of secretive media treatment.

My advice: remember that cynicism beats all expectations. The only way to make sure your New Thing gets 'good ink' is to share it with reporters ahead of time. Oh, and make the best product you can because technology doesn't wow 'em like it used to.

Which brings me to the NYT this week and its David Carr column ("Conjuring Up the Latest Buzz, Without a Word"), which was one long statement about hype--written with a hypester's eye and a frothing need to disclose the columnist's adoration for the new tablet machine -- the iMaxxi? -- from those fancy folks from Apple. (I stopped reading Carr regularly a while ago since it's usually about Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo!, and I can find inspiring opinions on blogs minute by minute.) This column caught me because he decided to jump on the hype bandwagon and I saw a quote jump out at me that has a great lesson inside for marketers:

In the article, the word magic was conjured up so many times that my eyes never stopped rolling. Everyone quoted says precisely what Carr directs them to: Apple "makes things rather than talks about" them. Never does a beta. Yet Apple product users without stars in their eyes know that a first generation of anything is a beta test that we all take part in. To say that Apple is releasing products in a cloud of openness ... is not responsible journalism, even for an opinion creator.

The beta testing of objects is ill-advised these days. You are laughed at heartily if your company claims the test is only for a handful. (It's even funnier to keep things in phony beta for five years like Googlers!) The idea is to open up everything--"Here we are!"--and make users a part of the progress. That's what smart marketing people do with their company products--kicking and screaming included.

I have no idea what Mac-o-file Steve Levy of was smoking when he told Carr that Apple is more disciplined than all other tech firms: "Other companies put things in beta...let people try it out and then bring it out...With Apple, they say nothing, build the suspense and then say: 'Here it is. You may discuss.' Other companies don't have ... the heart to do that."

Say what? This tablet computer isn't a beta? While it may be on sale any second, it'll then be reviewed to death by bloggers and big mouths and by the end of next month all critiques will be taken into consideration. iPad 2.0 will hardly be recognizable. Let's call that a "paid beta!"

Want to know what other companies don't have the heart to do? Not show Steve Levy or David Carr before the product is officially launched! (You can bet both saw it prior to launch in one form or another.) Most are full of fear that both will get mad and say they hate it in print. That's what I call an ego-buster.

Ryan Is Alive & Well

Is this a coincidence or has Hollywood collided with real life? Watching the Globes two Sundays back I noticed that the name of the actual guy who wrote the winning song for Crazy Hearts--Ryan Bingham -is the exact name as the character Clooney plays in Up In the Air. Now, I know Hollywood works from a single kitchen--but this is ridiculous. Or eerie. Or maybe Clooney does have his hands in EVERYTHING. That scares me.

45,000 Social Media Gurus Can't Be Wrong

I read how Facebook's 5000-friends-limit may be harming us. I got scared.

British evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar's theory said people have "cognitive limits" to the number of social relationships we can maintain, and the most we can handle in a single LIFETIME is 150. After that, our brain explodes--or something like that.

We should be careful about trying to maintain thousands of relationships online. People are trying to make us see the difference between "contacts" and "relationships," or what old timers in our 40s used to dub "work friends" and real friends.

When people ask Facebook to allow them to have unlimited friends, do they know what they're getting themselves into? Just for a moment realize that most people who friend us on #FB are pretending to love us so they can make us think they are a guru. And then sell us a "how to" service we don't need!

With that I introduce a new term - the "socia"-path, the social networking version of the carpetbagger, a person who feels they are an online expert because they can corral so many people at one time. Careful of those people. They're not your pals. They want you to believe they can teach you how to easy money from the comfort of your La-z-Boy because they (45,000 of them exist, I'm told) succeed by working a four-hour week selling unnecessary online tools to companies who don't know better. But remember: these chatty "socia"-paths make money just like Madoff did: by making us believe that the buyer can be as rich as the seller. In '09 we learned that was not the case.

Who was it again that shall inherit the earth?

Game On, Boys!

Are you as tired of hearing about the new DC insider's book Game Change as I am? Thought you'd say you were. I flipped through most of it at an airport Borders (does anyone work there?), and what cracked me up about its incessant "ah ha!" feel was that I, a National Enquirer reader had already deduced most of the scoops inside. I'm starting to think the Enquirer--and for the record, I read anything I can scoop up from those thinning racks--deserves a Pulitzer Prize for having the cojones to pursue "John Edwards: Sleazebag" when not even I took it seriously.

The authors of Game Change have been everywhere, at every turn, but just once I'd like to see them tilt their heads toward the Enquirer for giving them those leads. (The famous line about Mrs. Edwards refusing to believe her husband is "a monster" came from NE.) But they won't--because it's a supermarket rag known for some fabricated stories ("a friend said ...").

You know, if you think about it, Game Change's HarperCollins and the National Enquirer's American Media Inc. have a great deal in common:

Both are owned by unstoppable egotists who seek scoops inside every garbage can. Both spend a lot of cash reminding people of that first sentence. Both were targets of terrorists (check Wikipedia). And both are corporations that rehash so much inconsequential, by-the-byway news that I wonder if publishing cares more about Tori's motherhood tripe than anything real anyway!

Brazen Thought

Last year, everyone overused the word "woes" until it finally became meaningless. After all, whose troubles were worse? (See me shrug.) But there's a word in '10 that is used even more incorrectly--and often--in both journalism and advertising that it must be dropped. It's "brazen." Suddenly every move anyone makes is considered a brazen one. But I don't see anyone doing anything except tentatively and so with that I brazenly ask every single person to shut the hell up about what's considered gutsy and unbelievable.

That's it for today. Yes, those are real sheep.

-Richard Laermer

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